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FBI failures before the Capitol siege avoided the Jan. 6 committee's scorn. Not for long.

The House Jan. 6 panel has been running a behind-the-scenes investigation into how law enforcement missed the warning signs flashing before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Photo illustration of Rep. Liz Cheney and Rep. Bennie Thompson, the FBI seal, and a scene from the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
Investigators on the Jan. 6 committee have been digging into intelligence and law enforcement failures.NBC News; Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Although the House Jan. 6 committee has presented evidence of the carnage law enforcement faced at the Capitol that day, it has devoted little time to law enforcement's failure to predict and prevent the attack — at least not publicly.

But behind the scenes, sources tell NBC News, those failures have not been forgotten. As the committee prepares for an additional round of public hearings in September, it's expected to put more focus on the intelligence and law enforcement failures at the FBI and Department of Homeland Security that left police woefully underprepared for the mob that stormed the Capitol. Those failures will also be a key component of the committee’s final report on Jan. 6.

One of the online sleuths who has worked with both the Jan. 6 committee and the FBI has a little story that helps illustrate a lot of the bureau’s challenges in the sprawling federal investigation into the Capitol attack and why the bureau didn’t do more to make sure law enforcement was prepared ahead of the Capitol attack, given all the alarm bells that were going off all across the web.

When the sleuth needed to send a large file to the Jan. 6 committee, the sleuth popped the files over on Dropbox.

When the sleuth needed to give something to the FBI, a special agent drove over to the sleuth's home to transfer the files manually.

Due to late-breaking revelations, the committee’s public presentations in June and July skewed more toward Trump's actions before and during the Capitol attack. But there's a lot that got left on the cutting room floor, including new information gathered by the "blue team," which has focused on law enforcement failures leading up to the attack, as NBC News reported back in January.

A committee aide told NBC News last week that this team of investigators is singularly focused on the preparedness of and response by law enforcement, intelligence agencies and the military.

“The team has conducted more than 100 interviews and depositions touching on these matters of security and intelligence across several federal and local agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, Fusion Centers, Office of Intelligence & Analysis, among others," the aide said. "The team is looking into what intelligence these agencies had at their disposal; how that intelligence was analyzed, stitched together, and distributed; and whether law enforcement operationalized that intelligence.”

The "blue team," a separate source told NBC News, is headed by Soumya Dayananda, who spent more than a decade as a federal prosecutor — and worked the case against Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán — before joining the committee.

Liz Cheney said in an interview on Fox News last Sunday that the blue team’s work would be featured in the committee’s final report and would "likely" be included in upcoming hearings.

“What we aren’t going to do ... is blame the Capitol Police, blame those in law enforcement, for Donald Trump’s armed mob that he sent to the Capitol,” Cheney said. “Clearly there were intelligence failures, clearly the security should have operated better than it did. But this was a mob Donald Trump sent to the Capitol, and I think that’s important to keep our eye on.”

The FBI has been generally defensive about its preparations ahead of Jan. 6, and noted in the past that it took some actions to discourage extremists from traveling to D.C. ahead of the attack. But a new FBI statement to NBC News indicated the bureau had “increased our focus on swift information sharing” and “improved automated systems established to assist investigators and analysts” since Jan. 6.

There’s a limited time frame to help call attention to the need to fix the intelligence failures. If Republicans take back the House in the midterms, as many analysts expect, oversight could very quickly flip from examining FBI shortcomings to investigating alleged law enforcement overreach against those who stormed the Capitol on Trump's behalf. Instead of trying to understand how to make sure the FBI can make sure it is prepared for domestic extremist violence in the future, some congressional Republicans have downplayed the insurrection, protested the pretrial detention of some Jan. 6 rioters whom they've recast as "political prisoners," and flirted with the "fedsurrection" conspiracy that posits the FBI instigated the attack to set up Trump supporters.

The potential for lethal violence because of Trump's false claims about the 2020 election wasn't a big secret. Law enforcement officials raised concerns about the lethal danger of Trump's rhetoric both in the lead-up to and immediately after the November 2020 election. NBC News ran a story on the night of Jan. 5, 2021, about the violent threats spreading across Twitter, TikTok, Parler and TheDonald message board.

One of the individuals who raised concerns before the attack was Bill Fulton, a former FBI informant and expert in right-wing extremism, who sounded the alarm in November 2020 that Trump was "walking" his supporters "to the edge" with his rhetoric about the election.

“You have the president of the United States taking these people to the edge, and the second that something happens he’s going to turn around and go, ‘Well, I didn’t tell them to do that,'" Fulton said, ominously, at the time.

In a recent interview, Fulton said the bureau faces a host of challenges in trying to prevent domestic extremist attacks, including legacy systems and processes that aren't as frictionless as the communications and organizational technologies used in modern workplaces.

“You have to remember, this is the federal government, dude. Bureaucracy is in the FBI’s f---ing name,” Fulton told NBC News this month.

He also noted it was critically important that, even as the bureau takes overdue steps to improve open-source intelligence, that First Amendment rights are well protected.

“What we don’t want is the FBI becoming Hoover’s FBI again. We don’t want the FBI out there investigating people for no reason, right?” Fulton said. “And we don’t want those investigations to last forever.”

In a statement to NBC News, the FBI stated that the bureau "continues to evolve to combat persistent threats posed by domestic violent extremists" across the country.

"Since the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, the FBI has increased our focus on swift information sharing with all our state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement partners throughout the United States," the statement read. "We also have improved automated systems established to assist investigators and analysts in all of our 56 field offices throughout the investigative process. The FBI is determined to aggressively fight the threat posed by all domestic violent extremists, regardless of their motivations.”

The congressional investigation won't be the final word on why law enforcement officials didn't do more. In the weeks after the Capitol attack, the Justice Department's inspector general announced a review examining "the role and activity of DOJ and its components in preparing for and responding to the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021."

The review, the Justice Department inspector general said in a Jan. 15, 2021, announcement, "will include examining information relevant to the January 6 events that was available to DOJ and its components in advance of January 6; the extent to which such information was shared by DOJ and its components with the U.S. Capitol Police and other federal, state, and local agencies; and the role of DOJ personnel in responding to the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6."

The review would also address "any weaknesses in DOJ protocols, policies, or procedures that adversely affected the ability of DOJ or its components to prepare effectively for and respond to the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6." A spokesperson for the Justice Department inspector general said that the review "remains ongoing."